It is of course essential that the Republican Party compete for Hispanic voters. And in that effort GOP leaders can indeed learn from the Bush team—by again making a serious, consistent, even over-the-top effort to demonstrate that Hispanic voters are welcome in the party. Hispanic voters did not become attracted to the Republican cause in 2000 and 2004 because a bunch of white people wore “Viva Bush” pins. But those overtures did encourage Hispanics, particularly the more culturally conservative, to feel more comfortable with the GOP and therefore take a serious look at the party’s positions on the economy, on various social issues, and on a strong national defense. A reasoned and thoughtful discussion of the failure of the nation’s immigration laws does not have to drive Hispanic voters from the GOP—they respect America’s laws too. This was a message the Bush team never seemed to understand.
How much better off the GOP would have been if its leaders had worked harder to differentiate between expressing concerns over illegal immigrants and welcoming legal ones—or if it concentrated on making it easier for skilled foreign labor to become guest workers through a rational, fair, and legal process. Instead the party remains split over the mess its former leaders had created. Here is hoping a new generation of the GOP has learned something from the party’s past mistakes.